6 Decorating Tips that Won’t Mess up Your Security Deposit

One of the things that’s great about renting, is everything that isn’t your responsibility. Oven stops working? Refrigerator slowly dying? Squarely not your problem: this is the landlord’s property, and it’s up to them to take care of it. Unfortunately, this sword cuts both ways. And your brilliant decorating idea might not jive with the landlord’s vision for their property, and it’s your money on the line if you deviate from it.

But you don’t have to choose between decorating and your deposit. Here’s six tips for decorating your rental without losing your security deposit.

1.  Adding a Textile Touch

The simplest, easiest, lowest-risk move that you can make. Just adding some fabric is all it takes to make a space yours without altering it permanently. If you’re looking for someplace to start, the simplest option is just adding a rug. Even if you’ve got wall to wall carpeting, it’s amazing what the right rug can do for your décor. Pillows, throws, and large blankets can drape over your furniture giving it a fresh, textured look, as well as making your space as cozy and comfortable as can be.

To go even further, you can replace blinds, shutters, or existing curtains with your own, transforming a room according to your whims. Just remember to keep the originals safe and clean: you’ll need them when you’re moving out. And that goes for basically every replacement you make.

2.  When Possible, Eschew Nails

Painting over a nail hole or two is no big deal, right? Maybe. But these can add up over time, and you don’t always know where previous tenants have gotten carried away with the hammer, and if you plan on staying in your rental for a long time, just your wear and tear can add up quickly.

Instead, try using alternate adhesives – such as wall putty – for lighter decorations like posters and prints. An accent wall of concert, film, or event posters not only adds a personal touch to a room, it’s trivial to remove without damaging the paint. It can even become a hobby in its own right, expanding your accent wall with new discoveries. Using damage free hangers – such as 3Ms Command series of hooks and picture hangers – lets you hang paintings and other decorations without negatively impacting the surface. These open up all manner of options without breaking out the hammer.

3.  Décor by Decal

For some, the idea of decorating their new apartment with wall decals sounds preposterous. But beyond the butterflies and dinosaurs that young (and young at heart) renters might appreciate, there’s a world of vinyl decals to explore. From motivational quotes and custom designs, to accent patterns, faux-tile, and even wallpaper, there’s something for every style imaginable. You can even find faux marble, granite, and stainless steel for your counter tops, entirely changing your kitchen’s look and feel without permanently altering anything.

Pro tip: if you’re unsure about the quality of your decal, or simply want to test for any unforeseen side effects, take a small decal of the same make and apply it to a portion of your wall. Check back in a few days, and see if anything has changed. If not, you are probably good to go. Either way, most decals are affordable enough that there’s really no reason not to use the best-reviewed, most reliable options available.

4.  Create a Freestanding Accent Wall

A good accent wall can make any space pop. But if you aren’t thrilled about the idea of painting your apartment, then repainting it when you leave, hoping you can get everything to match, then slapping down a coat of paint might be out of the question. And if your lease explicitly prohibits it, then the idea is right out: you’re bound by your agreement in that case, and if you violate that paperwork you might have to kiss your security deposit goodbye (at best).

But with a little creativity, you can achieve the same visual contrast without taking unnecessary risks. One way to do this is to use a textured or colored decal, as detailed above. But another, more functional option, is to use tall shelving to similar effect. Breaking up the room, adding texture and color, and providing clean geometric lines, a floor to ceiling bookshelf can be just what the doctor ordered.

You don’t need to splurge here, and in some cases it’s better not to. Affordable, self-assembly shelves will do the trick more often than not, and you can always paint them to match – or contrast – your walls. Paint the back panels in whatever color you wish to get that accent effect, or forgo them entirely to add texture on to your existing walls. Stack the shelves with books, knick-knacks, game consoles, or whatever else you probably need storage for anyway, and voila! Instant accent.

5.  Light it Up

Lighting is probably the single most transformative factor when it comes to the look and feel of a space. Nothing against the overhead fixtures that likely came with your rental, but to be frank, usually those are the bare minimum. They’re functional, but they aren’t going to make your home come to life. Give your space the ambient lighting it deserves with table and floor lamps. If you don’t like the tint of the existing lights – especially if your rental is using old incandescent bulbs – swap out the bulbs for something warmer or cooler, as your needs dictate.

If you want to get more creative, an LED strip behind your entertainment center or under your kitchen counter can lend a hip, modern vibe. And of course, maximizing the natural light that you have access to is always a winning strategy.

6. Change What You Can

Doorknobs, cabinet handles: you might not have any say in what comes with your rental, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be stuck with them. Most of these are an easy swap, and make for a fantastic personal touch. And so long as you keep the originals in pristine condition, then you’re as good as gold. Rather than damaging your security deposit, this can actually make it easier to get everything back, as the hardware should be immaculate when you’re moving out. As always, upfront communication with your landlord or property manager before you decide to perform something like this is always a great idea. Some landlords are super into the idea; other landlords frown on it. Make sure you ask and explain your idea in advance so there are no misunderstandings. In general it is always better to over-communicate with your landlord than under-communicate.

Making it Yours, While Keeping it Theirs

Renting is ultimately a relationship between you and your landlord, and as with any relationship, great communication is key both short term and long term success. If you’re unsure whether or not something will adversely affect your deposit, don’t be afraid to ask beforehand. Even if you feel it maybe a dumb question it is better to ask than not ask. Over your course of renting you will come to recognize that most landlords appreciate that you asked frequent questions in advance. You will find that tenants that communicate more with their landlords save on future rent increases. You make it more about a working relationship towards a common goal. You will find that landlords will do more things for you in a prompt manner when you kindly and effectively communicate.

Your landlord would almost certainly rather return your entire deposit than pay for repairs, so it’s in their interest to keep you in the loop as well. Believe me, landlords hate doing repairs, it is time consuming and it isn’t a way to make money. In twenty years of real estate I have spoken with thousands of landlords and their biggest pet peeve is having to do unnecessary repairs that they didn’t have to perform if a tenant had just asked for notified them of a problem or idea. Either way, these tips should work in virtually every rental situation, so feel free to express yourself.

What are your favorite decorating tips? Have any rental hacks that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!


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